A Little Intro to the Psalms

Image from the Introduction to the Psalter from  Evangelical Lutheran Worship .

Image from the Introduction to the Psalter from Evangelical Lutheran Worship.

At St. George's we're beginning our worship and sermon series on "The Psalms and the Life of Faith" that will run through the whole week of August. It's sure to be an interesting series, with two great guest preachers book-ending the series.

If you aren't too familiar with it, the book of Psalms is found in the Bible, and is the book containing prayers, hymns and meditations of the people Israel, the precursor to both contemporary Judaism and Christianity. It's something of a compilation songbook, containing the treasured poetic pieces read and sung in worship. They range from praise and giving thanks to God, to laments, anger and distress directed at God and others. "Psalm" itself means "praise."

Many are said to be "of David," implying King David as the author, as David in known by the tradition as a musician himself and lover of music. While this may be possible, it is likely that the Psalms are from a variety of authors and editors, as it contains pieces from all parts of Israel's history. They have been a fixture in Jewish and Christian worship since the beginning.

The Psalms have been a treasured spiritual resource for Christians and Jews for centuries. One reason that this is the case is because it seems to contain the whole breadth of human emotion. The great 4th century theologian Athanasius once wrote that "in the words of this book the whole of human life, its basic spiritual conduct and as well its occasional movements and thoughts, is comprehended and contained. Nothing to be found in human life is omitted" (Ad Marcellenium). It's a sort of "greatest hits" of the human experience that speaks deeply even to our own centuries later. They were mostly meant to be sung, not read. Even now, Reformed Christian traditions like the United Church of Canada often have parts of their hymn books devoted to the Psalms, and a Psalm is always read in worship (not always the case at St. George's).

Not only is it a "greatest hits" of the human experience, it also represents a sort of "greatest hits" of theology and the Bible. The great reformer Martin Luther once said that the Psalms "might well be called a little Bible. In it is comprehended most beautifully and briefly everything that is in the entire Bible" (Luther's Works, 35:254) and the other great reformer John Calvin said that "there is nothing wanting which relates to the knowledge of eternal salvation" (Commentary on the Psalms). The Psalms, in effect, are a kind of summary of the story of the whole Bible in relation to God--you find their themes everywhere else in the scriptures.

And that's why we're diving into them this month, in the hope that the same Spirit that has spoken through them to our ancestors in faith might do the same for us. Take a moment to read our texts leading up to Sunday service. Enjoy the poetic language, the metaphors, the vivid imagery. But, perhaps more importantly, listen for where they are speaking to you, your life, and our world. "Find in it also yourself," as Martin Luther once wrote, "as well as God himself and all creatures" (Luther's Works 3:257).